The Mighty Logo

Earthquake Anxiety and Grief in the Middle of the Night

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I should be sleeping, not sitting up in bed, in the dark, watching my ghostly fingers (illuminated by my laptop) tap away on the keyboard. I should be sleeping, not sitting in the dark, trying to remember the shape of the words I need to form, that capture the jumble of confusion inside of my head and the itchy, uncomfortable ache in my heart.

I should be sleeping.

For some reason the earthquakes have been bothering me tonight, not that there has been a significant quake for a while. It’s the sound that gets me, that train-like rumble, and the teeth-clenching anticipation as I wonder, how big it will be? Will my loved ones be OK? Will I sleep, or will I panic again, like I did in November, and drive up the hill because of the confusing babble of warnings spewing out on social media about the tsunami risks? Will I sleep again, if that happens, or will it be another all-nighter as I ponder impending doom?

I really should be sleeping; none of that is real. There hasn’t been a significant earthquake for a while, and if the earth decided to rupture again tonight, well, that’s just going to happen whether or not I sleep.

It’s not really about the earthquakes, though, this lack of sleeping, the ghostly fingers dancing over the keyboard. It’s not about the noise they make, and the 3 a.m. traffic jams as people rushed for the hills. It’s not about any of that.

I wonder, sometimes, how similar these feelings are: my earthquake anxiety and my grief?

I live with them both, in every day.

They can both ambush me in the most unlikely of times (or with monotonous predictability, in the darkness, when I really should be sleeping).

The waves of pain, of recollected fear, as I made my way out of the CBD with glass and masonry falling around me, and the shrieks and panic as the road moved like a wave, people flailing about, rushing for the river. The desperate anxiety I felt, not being able to get in touch with my children, not knowing whether my family was OK?

The quiet panic, in that deathly silence, as my boy lay in the hospital.

The contrasting noises: the jumble, the cacophony of sound inside my head, as the competing stressors clamor anxiously for attention; the noise.

Grief is so much like those earthquakes, the aftershocks coming through thick and fast in the early days, weeks, months and even years. And they do lessen, as those days and weeks and months and years disappear, they do lessen. They don’t go away, though. I know that sound, I know it intimately. I know the way my bed moves, as a quake takes hold of it. I know. Just as I know the shape of the flashbacks, the sharpness and clarity they pull out of my soul, as they paint my pain behind my eyes, once again. I know them intimately, these signposts, these triggers.

And in some small way, in a corner of my heart, I really, desperately want to hold them tight, these memories, these agonizing thoughts that steal away my sleep.

I want to hold them tight, because they feel, sometimes (especially when I sit up late and watch my ghostly fingers on the keyboard), they feel like a way I can hold on tight, and ride out the waves, and remember and remember, and never forget, that I still have a relationship, a living bond, with my son. He’s still here, he’s sleeping in the hospital, he’s not moving because his soul is as exhausted as mine feels right now. I can hold on to him, in my grief. I can remember, and remember, and not sleep, don’t go to sleep. Just remember.

I cannot hold on forever, though; just as the earthquake damage that is still very evident in the CBD will not last forever. I cannot maintain this level of anxiety and still hope to function. I’m just simmering in it tonight, as I watch my fingers try desperately to capture the pain, because I know that this time next week, the shape of my grief is likely to change again as we hover at the cusp of a decision on suppression.

I really should be sleeping. I have no control over any of it, the earthquakes, the flashbacks or the decision-making process. What will be, will be, whether or not I sleep, whether or not my fingers manage to capture the pain, and push it away from me.

I really should be sleeping.

Thinkstock image by KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Originally published: April 25, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home