As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts (especially the last one), I’ve been frustrated by the grief resources that I’ve found so far. Most books are focused on the grief itself, and encourage us to dwell in our grief until we are “ready” to take a small step in the direction of health and healing. There’s not a lot out there that focuses on action — yet when I think back on the past 8 weeks, it’s the *actions* that I instinctually took that were the most helpful to me.
The first few days after Julian died seemed to go by in slow motion, yet my brain was going a mile a minute. I couldn’t stop thinking about the last week of Julian’s life. I constantly re-played and obsessively analyzed every detail, repeatedly asking myself, “What if I had done *that* differently?” There were countless “thats,” and none of them were logical.
But logic didn’t stop the loop in my head. Logic had nothing to do with it. I was searching for something that I could go back and change, to result in a different outcome. I wanted to rewind, command-z my life, change history. My brain was on auto-pilot, and was convinced that this would be possible.
The day after Julian died was the worst day of this illogical mental treadmill, and by the end of that first day, my brain needed to rest. I don’t think I was able to make the distinction between logical and illogical thoughts at that point. I just wanted to take a break from thinking, period. My instincts told me that these thoughts — and the suffering they caused — weren’t healthy or helpful. But I couldn’t seem to stop them.
So at the end of the day, it occurred to me that if I couldn’t stop the mental loops, maybe I could distract myself. So I turned on the TV in our bedroom, picked something from the DVR queue, and tried to relax. Yet there it was again: The Voice. It was back on that mental treadmill.
So I took action.
I got up out of bed, found a pad of post-it notes, and wrote this:
I stuck it on the TV just below the screen, and I got back in bed. I vaguely remember giving John a reason for doing this, but I was operating on instinct… I didn’t really have a reason, other than it just seemed like it would be helpful.
And here’s what happened: I would follow the TV show for a few minutes, then my mind would start the loop again. My gaze would drift down from the TV screen — and then I’d notice the bright yellow post-it.
THINK ABOUT IT TOMORROW.
I reminded myself that there was nothing to be gained by thinking about this right now. Maybe tomorrow I’d discover a way to turn back time and change the outcome, but not right now.
Eventually, the number of minutes between loops slowly increased. I don’t think I really comprehended anything on the TV show that first night, but I had taken one small action and it WORKED. It made a difference that night, and every night since then. Each day, the illogical looping got weaker.
Today, thanks to the post-it note and other actions that I’ll describe in future blog posts, the looping has stopped. My brain has given up the hope that it can change the past. But the post-it is still on the TV, just in case I need a reminder.
The post-it is still there, an ongoing reminder to not get stuck in thought patterns that aren’t healthy or helpful — especially right before bed. I can always just think about it tomorrow.