How long does “grief brain” last?

Because we don’t talk about the reality of grief in our culture, lots of grieving people think they’ve lost their minds.⁣⁣⁣

When Matt first died, I lost my mind – but not in the ways you might think. Grief-related memory loss is a real thing.

I used to be a person who could keep everything straight without notes or a calendar. I never lost my car keys. I used to have a really great memory –– until grief and memory loss collided.

Suddenly, I was putting my keys in the freezer and forgetting my dog’s name. There were days I couldn’t remember what day it was or if I’d eaten breakfast. This was much more than forgetfulness. It was full-on brain fog.

I used to love reading books, but even that eluded me. Now I couldn’t read more than a few sentences at a time, and usually had to go back and reread those same lines many times. Grief and concentration are not a good match.

My mind simply stopped functioning. Has that happened for you?

Grief-Related Memory Loss Can Make You Feel Like You’ve Lost Your Mind

There’s no formula to follow when your life goes sideways. No definitive resource or master checklist that says, “these things are normal.” Unfortunately, many people lost in grief simply suffer alone in the weirdness of it all, wondering if they’ve lost their minds on top of everything else.

Grief, especially early grief, is not a normal time. It makes perfect sense that you’re disoriented: everything has changed.

Memory loss, confusion, an inability to concentrate or focus – these things are all normal inside grief. They do tend to be temporary, but they last a lot longer than you would think.

You Have’t Lost Your Mind. You’re Grieving.

Realistically, it may be a few years before your grief-induced memory loss abates and your mind’s capacity returns to a recognizable form. In my own experience, it took nearly 5 years to feel like most of my capacity came back.

I know that may not be what you want to hear, but the thing to remember is, physiologically your body has experienced a trauma. I think grief has a much longer half-life than we expect, even when we understand the process and attend to it. All of those mental circuits that used to fire so clearly are trying their best to make sense of something that can’t ever make sense.

When your mind is working so hard, there’s very little brain power left over to track more than a paragraph in a book, or remember that your car keys go on the hook and not in the freezer. It’s hard to think in an orderly, concise fashion when you’re reeling from a loss.

While I can’t magically fix your mind, I can tell you this: you are not losing your mind. Your mind is doing the best it can to keep a bead on reality when the world has turned upside-down. Be patient with yourself. Make a lot of lists. Set reminders. Do whatever you need to do.

In my new guided grief journal, How to Carry What Can’t be Fixed, you’ll find daily practices and exercises to help you tend your grief, AND handy tools to help educate friends and family on how best to support you. Find it wherever you buy books.⁣⁣

Remember that this is a normal response to a stressful situation, it’s not a flaw in you. 

Grief has a much longer half-life than we expect, even when we understand the process and attend to it. Click To Tweet

Writing Through Grief Brain

Having your experience validated is freeing, isn’t it? It’s why I speak about my own early grief so often – it’s important to hear these stories. When I talk with people, one of the things that brings the most relief is letting them know they’re normal.

One of the most powerful parts of the Writing Your Grief e-course and wider alumni community is seeing how many people are experiencing the same things you are. Being able to say what’s true for you, and have other people say, “me too!” somehow makes grief easier to bear.

If you’d like to be part of a community like that, please join the next session of the Writing Your Grief course. We always have room for you.

How about you? Have you felt like you’ve lost your mind? How has grief changed the way your mind works? Let us know in the comments. The more we talk about this stuff, the more people realize they aren’t alone.