How Grief Affected My Physical Health After My Dad's Passing
Many people have heard of “broken heart syndrome.” Maybe not by name, but most likely they’ve heard stories of people passing away shortly after the loss of a loved one. I know this to be true, as my Grandfather passed away of a sudden heart attack less than a year after my Granny passed away. I always found it romantic when I heard of very elderly people that pass away holding each other’s hands.
A 2012 study published in the Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, found that “a person’s risk of having a heart increased 21 times over in the day immediately following the death of a loved one and six times over in the following week.”
What I didn’t know is grief can actually cause real physical problems. That is, until my Dad passed away last year.
In the days and weeks that followed, my body and mind seemed to be stuck in a “flight or fight” response. It felt like the anxiety and panic were sitting in my throat. I was hyper-aware and the stress was building.
The first thing I noticed was the disruption of sleep. I would be awake at all hours or sleeping too much. I would wake up with the fleeting memory of a nightmare I couldn’t remember. No matter how much sleep I was getting, I felt like a zombie, walking through my day.
I broke my ankle and heel just a few weeks after my Dad passed away in a pretty bad fall. I had a very caring ER doctor who said falls and accidents increase during grief, and not just in the elderly, but in all ages (including children). In hindsight, the lack of sleep and distraction probably increased my typical clumsiness.
I began experiencing chest pains and a permanent tightness I couldn’t explain. It was bad enough my doctor referred me to a cardiologist who ran tests and couldn’t find anything. In the nine months since it has improved, but not resolved, and I still have days when it takes my breath away.
At first, I explained away the daily nausea as a reaction to my “fight or flight” response; it’s happened before thanks to depression and anxiety. When I discussed it with my doctor six months later, I had lost 20 pounds I couldn’t afford to lose. I had no appetite and when I did eat I prayed it stayed down.
I was also catching every cold and flu that went around. My immune system didn’t seem to be able to fight back like it should. In December, when I had the worst flu of my life, I really began to realize how much my lack of sleep, lack of exercise (thanks to 10+ weeks in a cast) and not eating properly was affecting my overall health.
Having fibromyalgia I know body pain; I live with it daily. Nothing prepared me for the pain I would experience in the months that followed my Dad’s passing. Every joint felt inflamed and every muscle ached. It felt like the longest and most severe fibro-flare I could imagine. Like I had been hit by a car I never saw coming.
I have been making more of an effort to improve my physical health since the new year. As a result, I also finally feel like I am grieving.
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