How My Anxiety Interfered With My Grief

You need to grieve properly.  Photo by Ambro at
You need to grieve properly. Photo by Ambro at

My brother passed away last May, very unexpectedly, and I was devastated. He was the last of my family, the last person I could totally count on. For me, the first few months after such a loss are spent in shock and a numbness that is hard to explain. You are just trying to manage what needs to be done and, while you are sad and crying, the full impact hasn't really hit yet. It is perhaps, in a very bizarre way, the easiest time of your grieving process.

I have suffered, on and off, all of my life from an anxiety disorder. As the months passed after my brothers death, my anxiety got worse and worse. In the last four months or so, I have been battling my anxiety 24/7. For anyone out there with this disorder, you know what I mean. But for those who don't know much about it, you spend your entire day trying desperately not to feel anxious and in fear of having a panic attack.

It is exhausting , paralyzing and mind -numbing . I have been practicing Claire Weekes (the expert to many on anxiety) theories on controlling anxiety, which basically teaches you to not fear them and try to just ride through it. Fear is the root of anxiety so you have to learn not to be afraid of it. Easier said than done, believe me! Very effective, but it takes a long time to achieve.

During this time, I have also had to cut out anything that makes me nervous, when I can. I don't read the news, watch crime shows, do anything that I feel pressured to do, and on and on. You have to let your nerves heal. Of course there are things you can't avoid so you will always have some chance of becoming so anxious you have a panic attack.

What I didn't realize until very recently was that in battling my anxiety, and thus avoiding getting emotional about things, I had not let myself grieve properly. I was pushing away the sadness and despair I felt because I was afraid those feelings would undermine my attempts to get rid of my anxiety. I wasn't even aware that I was doing this, so it came as quite a shock when I recognized what was happening.

I wish I could say what it was that made me have that "aha" moment, but I don't remember...something I read that made that light bulb go on in my brain. I have rarely cried since he died (something I have done buckets of with other deaths and believe firmly in) and it kept me from grieving the way I needed to. One night, not long ago, I was watching a movie and I started crying and couldn't stop. It wasn't even a sad movie, it was just one of those scenes that are so touching it makes you weepy. But I was really crying over my brother and it felt cathartic. One of my favorite quotes is by Albert Smith:

Tears are the safety valve of the heart when too much pressure is laid upon it.

I have just begun to be able to cry again and be emotional about his passing in order to go down the grief road. Realizing this has made a huge difference in how I feel. I am still battling my anxiety, but I can now separate my grief from my anxiety. I can cry and not worry that it will give me a panic attack.

For anyone out there who is in the same position, I hope this gives you that "aha" moment, so that you can grieve the way you should. It's hard enough dealing with either of these things, but when your sorrow over your loved one is put on a back burner, it is even harder to deal with them. I'll leave you with another of my favorite quotes (I have many, many favorites) by Washington Irving:

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues...they are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love.

Has this ever happened to you?

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Comments 16 comments

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MysticMoonlight 3 years ago

My sincere condolences to you, Catgypsy, on the loss of your dear brother. I've been just where you are as my brother passed away 2 years ago. I, too, have struggled with anxiety all of my life and after my brother passed, it got much worse. I lived in fear everyday that the anxiety, worry, and grief would consume me entirely and that I wouldn't be able to function normally ever again. With time, learning to let myself grieve properly, and teaching myself to focus on other things as well as learning mediation and relaxation techniques, I've come a long way since those very dark days.

I wish for you continued progress and healing, it is a long and constant road but you are doing it every single day.

Blessings to you, voted up on this helpful article!

catgypsy profile image

catgypsy 3 years ago from the South Author

MysticMoonlight, thank you so much. I'm glad to hear that you have come out of that horrible time. You put it so well..."I lived in fear everyday that the anxiety, worry, and grief would consume me entirely and that I wouldn't be able to function normally ever again"...that's how you feel and it's scary and overwhelming. I am working very hard on myself and having faith that I will get over this. Thank you for your concern and support. :)

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catgypsy 3 years ago from the South Author

Mystic, I meant to also add how sorry I am to hear about your brother. It's so hard to lose the people we love. Forgive me for not mentioning it the first time!

bac2basics profile image

bac2basics 3 years ago from Spain

Hi cat.

I too know what you are going through as have been there myself. It´s good to know you had that AHA moment and are now moving forward, you will come through this, just let time pass as Dr Weekes would advise.

Strangely I was just thinking of you the other day and wondering how you were and it made me think of your last hub , despite being in a very bad place you still managed to write it and now this one, you should take that as a measure on how you actually are coping because despite everything you are going forward even though it may not feel like it. Just being able to sit and write is a huge indicator of how well you are doing, sometimes agitation won´t even allow you to sit and flashing thoughts won´t allow you to focus, so to manage 2 hubs when you are in the storm of anxiety are your glimpses ( Claire again) that normality can be attained even when you are feeling so bad.

As always I send you a big hug cat, and I know this hub will help many people struggling with the double whammy of grief on top of anxiety. Well done you :)

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MysticMoonlight 3 years ago

No worries, Catgypsy. Thank you for your condolences. Indeed it is hard to lose those that we hold most dear to us. Coping takes time and much effort, one day after another is all we can do. Remember not let others pressure you to 'get over it'. You will slowly heal on your own time, it will happen as it should.

Bac2basics made some excellent points about writing being most helpful. For me, writing is cathartic and helps me sort out thoughts that, left in my head, seem foggy and unclear. Writing seems to allow a way to slowly release a valve until things start to come back into focus. Your doing great and I do wish this continues for you and again continued healing, always.

denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

It has been years ago, but when my brother passed away at the age of 16 years (I was only 15 at the time), my anxiety got in the way of my grief. I didn't dare cry, I didn't know how to feel, and became numb toward my family and others who were grieving. It was not until years later, when my husband's grandmother passed away, that I grieved for both deaths. I became physically ill, it was so difficult. When I recognized what was happening, I wrote a memorial to my brother and sent it to my family. This helped me immensely.

catgypsy profile image

catgypsy 3 years ago from the South Author

bac2basics, you are such a sweetheart...thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. Yes, I am trying my best to keep writing and it makes me feel like I'm functioning better. I can see that you are very familiar with Claire's work!

I do hope this helps someone else...that's why I write so much about anxiety, because I truly want to help people feel less alone and to know their feelings are not weird or crazy. We already feel weird and crazy enough...haha.

Thanks again, you made me feel better.

catgypsy profile image

catgypsy 3 years ago from the South Author

Mystic, yes writing is very cathartic and you sometimes realize things you never would have, as they pop into your head while writing. It really makes you think about your feelings, doesn't it?

Thanks for your kind concern.

catgypsy profile image

catgypsy 3 years ago from the South Author

Denise, that's a terrible age to have to go through the death of someone so close to you. It's hard enough when we are older and know more about grief, but when young, it sometimes doesn't register right! I am glad you finally were able to grieve for him, even at such a late stage. That happened to me when my dad passed away...I grieved for others that I hadn't fully grieved for that passed away when I was younger. Strange how that happens.

Thanks so much for your reply.

Trixie 3 years ago

I'm very sorry about the passing or your brother. I hope you don't beat yourself up too much over how you process the pain. Your grieving process is your grieving process, and if you happen to have GAD, then that is simply part and parcel of it. It sounds like you want your grieving process to fit some standardized mold of how "normal" people grieve. I don't know anyone who wasn't beset by anxiety after the passage of a close family member. Some people don't cry a lot or at all. Everyone pushes away the sad thoughts. You're not alone in experiencing grief this way. Take care.

catgypsy profile image

catgypsy 3 years ago from the South Author

Trixie, thanks for your reply. While anxiety might be common when people lose someone, for me it goes well beyond the norm, so it is more debilitating in the sense that it interferes with my normal life.

I know that the way people grieve is different for everyone, but having been through so many deaths in the last eight years, I know pretty much my "process" and crying is one thing that helped me so much. But I really appreciate you wanting to let me know that that whatever way I'm grieving is ok. Thanks again for your thoughts on this.

WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 3 years ago

I am so sorry about your brother, first off. But I can totally relate to anxiety and the kinds of problems it causes, I have a neurotransmitter deficiency and every now and then if I'm not careful it gets out of whack and I can have anxiety attacks. When I had unexpected losses, I went off the deep end with it for a while there. This is so beautiful, I love the ending about tears-- so true, they're so important and healing. It's important to get out the grief.

catgypsy profile image

catgypsy 3 years ago from the South Author

WiccanSage, thank you. I'm sorry you have that deficiency and hope it doesn't cause you too much trouble. Grief can cause so many more problems than we expect. There are so many layers to it, aren't there? I have always believed that tears are like release valves that let the pressure off. Thanks for stopping by!

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 2 years ago from Minnesota

Thank you for sharing this informative struggle with us. I too suffer with an anxiety disorder. I learned many years ago that grieving actually helped my anxiety. The more I tried to hold off the grieving process, for fear of a panic attack, the more anxious I became. I am so glad you had your aha moment. I can relate to all your losses. I have lost my mom, dad, and brother David, who was just one year older than my twin sister and I. God Bless you friend :-)

catgypsy profile image

catgypsy 2 years ago from the South Author

Minnetonka Twin,

You know exactly what I'm going through and yes, holding back my emotions just made me worse. Anxiety is such a controlling thing and it makes me so angry. Now I am thankful I can at least cry again, because for awhile I couldn't.

I am so sorry for your losses. I'm glad you have your twin. And I know you've also been through some other rough times. God Bless you too. And a big hug to you.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 2 years ago from Minnesota

Hugs back to you catgypsy. I thank God everyday that I have my twin sister. She is my heart and soul.

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